Scams surround trade shows and conferences

I wasn’t surprised when I saw this Tweet last week:

Sage had just announced the hotel prices for Sage Summit 2014 in Las Vegas, and it didn’t take long for con artists to pick up on their chance to bait innocent people. Sage made it perfectly clear that housing registration wasn’t going to be available until formal registration began later on this spring, but the scammers tried their best to get at Sage partners and customers as soon as they could.

This is a picture of the famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign.

Scam artists are hoping the bright lights of Las Vegas will blind Sage Summit attendees.

This isn’t a simple matter of unscrupulous travel agents trying to divert attendees to their hotels or rooms instead of the ones that are partnering with Sage.

“Their MO is to get your credit card information,” said Suzanne Spear, Sage’s director of event marketing.

The problem is that no amount of anti-virus or anti-malware software can prevent this type of scam. It’s known as human engineering. In short, it’s using people’s nature (for better or worse) to get them to willingly hand over their information (credit card numbers, passwords, etc.) instead of it being hacked out of your private or encrypted files.

If you’re going to fly across the country to attend a four-day conference, you want to make sure you get the best rates for everything. No matter what show or conference, the staff for these events work hard to make sure you get the best deals from the most reputable vendors. But scam artists will call attendees or vendors pretending to be from an approved or reputable source. The truth is that if the scam didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it.

Cultivate14 logoTracy Phillips, an exhibit sales representative with AmericanHort, said because Cultivate14 (formerly the OFA Short Course) is such a large and important event in the horticulture industry, they’re a main target for scam artists. The show’s attendees are generally safe from these types of scams, she said,  because their attendance lists are not published. However, for the convenience of the attendees, the list of trade show vendors are published online, and they are the targets.

“The exhibitors are an easy target because you can quickly go online and figure out who the exhibitors are,” Phillips said. “Anyone who is ‘shopping’ your show, that information is available to them.”

The worst offender according to Phillips is a company (which I won’t name so they don’t receive any SEO benefit) that tells vendors they will verify their company’s listing in a trade magazine. “But in the fine print, you get all of that for $1,900, and when you sign on the bottom line, you have to pay up,” she said.

Another common scam directed at their exhibitors is carpet installers, Phillps said. “They do give you a great deal, but then they come in and don’t lay the carpet properly, and that’s obviously an issue,” she said.

Phillips said if you ever feel like you’re being scammed, contact them (or the staff of whichever show you’re participating in) immediately.

“We absolutely want to know,” Phillips said. “We want to be notified if a particular company is giving you problems or if it’s a company you’ve never heard of. We don’t want you to get into a situation where there will be financial repercussions.”

And, when in doubt, ask.

“If you are ever in doubt, give us a call and say ‘Is this one of your partnering companies,’ ” Phillips said. “The first thing to do is to give me a call or shoot me an e-mail and I can verify it in two seconds. The other thing is you can go into Map Your Show (the online exhibitor portal). We have the alerts right there.”

Phillips said you can contact a company that you think is scamming you or harassing you directly. “You can tell them they are not one of the “preferred partners” and that’s usually enough to make them go away on your own.”

If you want to report a company to a higher authority, Phillips said to contact the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. “We have worked with the IAEE in the past, and they do offer a letter and they can work with the government to get a cease and desist order.”

Spear said if you’re attending Sage Summit and you think you’ve received a scam phone call or e-mail, to contact them at infosagesummit(at)sage.com.

“Sage Summit was a target last year, but because we go in front of our attendees early on via social media and word of mouth, we were able to squash the group,” she said.

There will always be people in this world who will try to take advantage of unsuspecting people. The best you can do is prepare yourself by being aware that there are scams out there, and question things that don’t sound right. And as always, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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